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Friday, Jan 30, 2009
After playing as CHANDRA for a couple of years, the band decided to recruit a teenage backing band and the Chandra Dimension was born.

Once CHANDRA had toured their EP, it was decided that Chandra should be backed by other teenagers. So, with Diserio and Alexander in tow, the Chandra Dimension was born.  The Chandra Dimension consisted of Chandra, a 12-year-old on keys,a 17-year-old on bass, and a 14-year-old on drums. The Chandra Dimension recorded an EP that was not released until last year when both the original CHANDRA EP and The Chandra Dimension EP were re-released as a single album by Cantor Records (you can listen to minute-long clips at Other Music)


The Chandra Dimension EP differs somewhat from the CHANDRA EP, but shares many of the first EP’s salient characteristics.  Opener, “Get It Out of Your System”, begins energetically and seems more streamlined than the previous EP; trebly guitar is featured more prominently and Chandra’s voice is more commanding.  Other than that there is still the dissonant-yet-melodic keys and dancey bass line backed by disco drums.  The chorus is excellent with a vocal line that constantly changes emphases, spinning around and leaving the listener disoriented but satisfied.  The live claps on this song add a level of childish excitement as they are weak-sounding and are obviously the product of children’s hands.


The third song, “Something”, follows in the same vein with interesting layers of instruments, a great bass line and more prominently featured guitar.  Chandra’s voice on this shows mature detachment and defeatism.  Though there is childishness in lines like “There’s nothing you can do about teachers”, there are startlingly precocious lines like “There’s nothing you can do about the evolution of the world / There’s nothing you can do about politics, it’s absurd” and “What about suicide? / Don’t you think we’ve tried? / It was a lie, you were right.”  The punctuating keyboards and guitar drive home every line by, the now, 14-year-old Chandra. 


Though Chandra’s youth makes these recordings that much more interesting, they stand alone as wonderful outsider disco compositions.  The fact that the lyrics were written and sung by a 12-year-old adds a layer of interest to the story, but if you didn’t know it the fact probably would not cross your mind.  A singular entity in the post-punk world, CHANDRA and the Chandra Dimension made NYC relics that stand alone in their composition and background story. 


Chandra Oppenheim gave up music after the Chandra Dimension, and perhaps it was for the best; with only eight songs (and a couple of unreleased songs that will show up soon enough) there’s not a blemish on her record.  Still, it gives rise to the question: If she was outdoing so many adults at 12, what would she have been doing at 20?


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Thursday, Jan 29, 2009

The shadow of Pet Sounds loomed large on the Beach Boys after it was released in 1966. How do you follow-up one of the greatest, if not THE greatest album of all-time? Well, with Smile of course! But when that album failed to materialize, the record-buying public seemed to turn their backs on the Beach Boys in disappointment. Album sales dwindled and despite “topical” songs like “Student Demonstration Time” (and despite their beards) the Boys suddenly seemed out of step with the times. It’s in retrospect that people have begun to discover and appreciate their post-Pet Sounds albums and it’s about time. Although this period was famously a difficult time for Brian Wilson, it didn’t stop him from writing some fantastic songs.


In 1968 most of Brian Wilson’s days were spent locked away in his Bel-Air mansion. Friends, the album the Beach Boys released that year, included the song “Busy Doin’ Nothin’” written by Brian. It’s practically a diary entry, describing in detail a typical day in the life of its author. It is also a mess of contradictions. Starting with the title of the song itself, Brian seems to be trying to convince us (and himself) that he’s keeping busy when in fact he seems to be doing nothing much at all. It really reads like an answer to the question “What do you DO all day, Brian?”


“I had to fix a lot of things this morning / ‘Cause they were so scrambled / But now they’re okay / I tell you I’ve got enough to do”


Brian sounds like an unconvincing child in these first lines. Vaguely describing that he’s fixing things (what things exactly?) because they’re “so scrambled” and then for some reason hurriedly adding he has enough to do. It’s also interesting that the word scrambled is used as it conjures up the state of Brian’s mind at this time, which indeed could have used some fixing.


The next line starts with Brian telling us how busy his afternoon is but immediately he changes the subject to the weather. He seems to be trying to veer off from the question of what occupies his time.


“The afternoon was filled up with phone calls / What a hot sticky day / The air is cooling down.”


 


What follows next is truly one of the most bizarre moments in any Beach Boys song ever. It’s basically Brian giving you directions to his house. He leaves out street names but it’s still a weirdly detailed and candid description. According to the Friends liner notes, ”provided you knew where to start, you would’ve gotten to Brian’s Bel-Air house.”


“Drive for a couple miles / You’ll see a sign and turn left for a couple blocks / Next is mine / You’ll turn left on a little road / It’s a bumpy one / You’ll see a white fence / Move the gate and drive through on the left side / Come right in and you’ll find me in my house somewhere / Keeping busy while I wait.”


Later in the song Brian wants to make a phone call to a friend but can’t find the number, so what does he do?


“I sat and concentrated on the number / And slowly it came to me / So I dialed it.”


That’s right; he sits and concentrates on the phone number until he remembers it. The fact that the above line is an actual lyric in an actual song is exactly why I love Brian Wilson. And it gets better…


“And I let it ring a few times / There was no answer / So I let it ring a little more / Still no answer / So I hung up the telephone / Got some paper and sharpened up a pencil and wrote a letter to my friend.”


Such a great ending to such a bizarre and enjoyable song. On the surface the lyrics seem light and inconsequential and the music fits them perfectly; a bossa nova beat and soft flutes make the song so relaxed it’s almost lulling. But it all seems to hide an extreme loneliness; the unanswered phone call to a friend, going so far as to invite the listener over to his house, directions provided. It’s an amazing glimpse into Brian Wilson’s world in the late ‘60s and proof that the Beach Boys’ great songs didn’t end with Pet Sounds.


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Thursday, Jan 29, 2009

Willie Nelson is teaming up with one of my favorite bands, Asleep at the Wheel, for an album of western swing tunes, Willie and the Wheel, due out next Tuesday on Bismeaux Records. Western swing typically gets tagged as a form of country music, but it really stands on its own, more like a “hillbilly jazz” or “country swing jazz”. Asleep at the Wheel has been at the forefront of keeping this genre—essentially pioneered by the late, great Bob Wills—alive and vital since the 1970s. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Willie Nelson’s deep, eclectic catalogue will find this pairing to be nearly ideal. I’ve always said that Willie Nelson is as fine a jazz singer as he is a country singer, in the way he plays and improvises melody and frequently sings off the beat, bringing unexpected rhythms and textures into his tunes. Here’s the first song off Willie and the Wheel, “Hesitation Blues” and a video with Nelson and Ray Benson discussing the project.


Willie Nelson and Asleep at the Wheel
Hesitation Blues [MP3]
     


Buy at Amazon MP3 Store


TOUR DATES
Feb 11 - TV: Good Morning America
Feb 11 - Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank NJ
Feb 12 - FM Kirby Center, Wilkes Barre PA
Feb 13 - American Music Theatre, Lancaster PA
Feb 14 - Stanley Performing Arts Center, Utica NY
Feb 15 - Palace Theatre, Albany NY
Feb 16 - TV: Late Night w/David Letterman
Feb 17 - Civic Center, Roanoake VA
Feb 18 - Bob Martin Agricultural, Williamston NC
Feb 19 - Holmes Center, Boone NC
Feb 20 - Durham Performing Arts Center, Durham NC
Feb 21 - Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro NC


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Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009
CHANDRA was a NYC post-punk, outsider disco group featuring members of the Dance and Material, and fronted by 12-year-old, Chandra Oppenheim.

Chandra Oppenheim’s story is one of the most innocent but interesting stories to come out of post-punk NYC. On the Lower East Side in 1980 it would’ve taken a lot to shock anyone.  After glam moved into punk and punk moved into post-punk/new wave/no wave/noise/outsider disco/mutant disco/art punk/etc/etc, it was a musical free for all.  So it makes sense that, Chandra Oppenheim, a precocious yet unassuming 12-year-old from Brooklyn would enter the scene backed by a post-punk, outsider disco group under the name CHANDRA.


Well, perhaps it doesn’t make complete sense, but it seems like the only time and place where something like this would be able to happen and flourish.


Chandra’s story is not typical in any sense.  Her father was famed American artist, Dennis Oppenheim, who caroused with the artists and musicians of the late ‘70s Lower East Side.  Dennis was friends with Eugenie Diserio and Steven Alexander, who had been playing the NYC post-punk circuit with the Model Citizens. The Model Citizens signed to John Cale’s Spy Label and then broke up to take things in another direction with their new band, The Dance, featuring drummer Fred Maher (who later joined Material) and bassist Louis Watson.  They were interested in starting a band with a kid, and it seems like luck that they were already in contact with the talented Chandra Oppenheim.


 


Chandra Oppenheim had been writing music and performing for some time, often doing songs and performances at her father’s parties. Having met Chandra when she was 11, Diserio and Alexander formed a band and started to rehearse in a studio in Hell’s Kitchen. The result of these rehearsals was their debut EP, Transportation, on the band’s own record label GOGO/ON; a mix of dissonant weird disco, bass-heavy dance grooves and Chandra’s unmistakable chant-singing.


 


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Wednesday, Jan 28, 2009

The silly red hat: it’s back. At first, when I see Elvis Costello wearing that questionable fashion choice once again atop his head while performing (an abridged) “All This Useless Beauty” at the start of tonight’s episode of Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (airing Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel), I conclude that he must dust the thing off each time a devotee of opera appears on the show. Tonight’s guest, after all, is American soprano Renée Fleming. Alas, my conclusion is premature: halfway through the episode, Costello introduces, as a surprise guest, Rufus Wainwright, who appears wearing the same outfit from his previous episode. This episode, then, was taped on the same day, perhaps the only day that hat made it out from some whimsical closet and into public.


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